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Do the networks' super teams for huge accounts undermine individual agency brands?

By Jeremy Lee, columnist

September 3, 2015 | 4 min read

Cheryl Giovannoni, the genial but not noticeably demonstrative chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather London, tweeted a mysterious message last week. Ending with the hashtag ‘lifeisgood’, we can only assume that it was in reference to her departure from the agency, which was announced to the wider world just a few days later.

Cheryl Giovannoni

Giovannoni lasted at the shop for just two years and given the task at hand achieved some small successes. However any effort to make Ogilvy & Mather really make its mark on the domestic market, particularly in winning new business, seemed once again largely absent.

In fairness to Giovannoni, it’s probably not her fault – frustrated insiders say that the setup of the agency, and most particularly its dependence on WPP ‘Team’ business, will have hamstrung her efforts at leadership or imposing her own direction on the agency.

With so many of Ogilvy & Mather’s global clients managed by account barons beyond her jurisdiction or by WPP multi-agency ‘Teams’ such as Blue Hive, which handles Ford, there is the accusation that being CEO of Ogilvy & Mather isn’t really much of a job at all.

This problem is not a new one – nor is it peculiar to Ogilvy & Mather (you could argue that WCRS is in a similar position, bound by the ties that the Engine Group proposition) – but it is likely to have been exacerbated in recent years by WPP’s insistence on producing group wide propositions to service clients needs.

Most recently we have seen WPP create Team Air, which comprises Grey London and New York, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, Geometry Global, Hogarth and TNS to handle Emirates Airlines; a WPP team to handle Aston Martin Lagonda; and a WPP “networked” group of agencies to handle Coca-Cola.

These “teams” turn into mini-agencies themselves with direct reports to the client, leaving the leaders of the component parts largely impotent and without influence over the account but left with the task of trying to win local business. And in the Ogilvy case, it gets even more muddled as for inexplicable reasons the combative chief creative officer Gerry Human doesn’t report to the UK CEO but to Miles Young, the worldwide chief executive, himself.

For clients, the team solution might be an appealing one – as well as getting access to a suite of services that probably comes with a volume discount, there is one central point of contact. For WPP, gaining as much revenue is its ultimate goal – so no one can really blame it for bundling its various offerings together.

But for those local agency chief executives, and particularly so at Ogilvy, these big client teams inherently downplay the importance of the agency brands and make an already tricky job even more difficult as Giovannoni appears to have found out.

It seems imperative on Annette King, the Ogilvy Group chief who has now taken on Giovannoni’s old responsibilities, to find a way to achieve some sort of balance. But given her innate determination, it would take a brave account baron to stand in her way.

Follow Jeremy Lee on Twitter @jezzalee

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